If you come from a Latin culture, then you know that ‘carne’ is meat – the flesh of an animal – and (sorry vegans) it’s delicious. That helps in our understanding of the theological term (church word) ‘inCARNation’ – which means ‘to take on flesh.’ That is what Jesus did when He came to earth. John declares that in the opening chapter of his gospel.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV
However, understanding the term is a far cry from wrapping our heads and hearts around the meaning of it all. Acknowledging that God the Son – the One who is called the Way, the Truth and the Life – would be born of a virgin and take on human flesh and dwell amongst men, because the Bible says it’s true, is not the same thing as letting that truth pierce your soul and blow your mind. Have you ever stopped to think about what this means – to ponder how could this be? Jesus’ earthly mother Mary did – and the explanation the angel gave her is an amazing one.
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. Luke 1:34-35 ESV
The Holy Spirit would overshadow Mary and she would bring forth the Holy One of God, Jesus, the Savior of the world. This is the One whom angelic beings, called seraphim, could not look on without covering their faces and crying out Holy, Holy, Holy in Isaiah 6. Colossians 1:17 tells us that all that exists has been created by Him and for Him. And yet, this omnipotent Creator has come to earth to dwell among us – not as the supreme ruler (at least not in attitude – Philippians 2:6), but as a child who would live a meek, humble and perfectly holy life – the life we were meant to live but couldn’t because of our sin. And that is only the beginning. He lived that life for a purpose.
The angel Gabriel revealed that purpose to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, as he explained why his virgin fiancé was going to have a baby that wasn’t his.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Mat 1:21 ESV
That’s the purpose, to save His people from their sins. That’s why Jesus came. He came to save – and that saving began at His birth. It began when He let out His first cry and nursed for the first time. It was then that He began living the perfect life in our place – the life that we get credit for when we place our faith in Him. You see, He came, not primarily as an example for us to follow. He came primarily as a substitute – to live and die in our place. Ultimately that baby would grow up and die for our sin and secure our forgiveness – the first half of our salvation. But it is the perfect life that He lived that is imputed (another church word) to us, that is our righteousness. It is the only basis for sinners like us to be invited to join the family of an infinitely holy God. It is the second half of our salvation. It is the fulfillment of the promise that the angel gave to Joseph – that He would save His people from their sin – that He would save us from our sin.
That is the beauty and miracle of the incarnation – as the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us. That is what we are celebrating this and every Christmas. May we allow that truth to soak into our hearts as we enjoy the season.